MIT Climate Nucleus
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Climate Grand Challenges
The meeting began with a discussion about the Climate Grand Challenges (CGC) initiative. Associate Provost Richard Lester joined the meeting to ask for Nucleus input on the establishment of an advisory/review committee for CGC.
Lester outlined a plan for a committee composed of five to six members, from both MIT and outside MIT, who would periodically assess the progress of the five flagship Climate Grand Challenges projects and report on their findings. Lester asked the Nucleus members for recommendations for potential members with both domain expertise and project management and innovation knowledge. Comments from Nucleus members included: whether the Nucleus or a subgroup of it could itself form the review committee and the value of having external members. Nucleus members were asked to provide additional input through the co-chairs or by email.
Travel Offset Program
The Nucleus then heard a presentation from Julie Newman, the director the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) and a Nucleus member, and Jeremy Gregory, the executive director of the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium, about a proposed pilot offset program for MIT-sponsored travel, one of 14 campus commitments in the Fast Forward plan.
A Travel Offset Steering Committee, formed in January 2022, worked with a project team led by MITOS and an external consultant to assess how to best account for scope 3 emissions associated with business travel. Priority topics included: identifying and implementing scientifically valid, impactful, and equitable carbon offset strategies; encouraging the MIT community to consider the environmental impact of travel; and reducing the amount of air travel.
A broad landscape analysis of more than two dozen existing travel offset programs found that they vary in three categories:
- Offset purchase: Individual vs. collective. The programs that purchase offsets individually do so at the point of consumption; the offsets are purchased individually for each trip, either by the organization or the traveler. Other programs purchase offsets collectively (e.g. a university would purchase offsets on behalf of the entire school), usually annually, to offset all air travel in the academic or calendar year.
- Fee type: Flat fee vs. mileage-based fee. Some programs implement a flat fee applied equally to all air travel; sometimes the flat fee varies for domestic and international travel. Other programs implement a mileage-based fee, which is calculated per mile traveled, resulting in longer trips incurring a higher fee.
- Investment: Registered offsets vs. Internal carbon fund. The programs evaluated either use the funds raised by the air travel fee to purchase registered offsets or to invest in community and internal carbon emissions reduction projects through a carbon fund.
Nucleus members offered feedback on the pilot, and also discussed how to use the pilot as an opportunity for conducting research.
Moving toward implementation, key steps include establishing a data collection system; determining the scope of the pilot (e.g., which schools/departments will participate); creating a resource to provide information about the program; and determining how to the use the funds generated by the fee.
January 2023 Independent Activities Period
The Nucleus co-chairs closed the meeting with a brief update on a plan for the Nucleus to fund mini-grants in support of projects during Independent Activities Period in 2023 focused on issues related to climate justice and the just transition.
- Working with the Office of Experiential Learning, the Nucleus aims to launch the IAP mini-grant program in October.
- The next Nucleus meeting will be October 28, 2022.